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It's the Big One: Kaname Ikeda and Frank Briscoe signing the contract for the construction of the ITER buildings.
Excitement was in the air this Friday afternoon when tables adorned by flags representing the seven ITER Member states were carried into the courtyard of the Cadarache Château to prepare for the long-anticipated moment. "This is a big one," one spectator observed and indeed, the Procurement Arrangement which the ITER Director-General Kaname Ikeda and Frank Briscoe, the Director of the European Domestic Agency signed a few minutes later represents the largest procurement in ITER history. Worth more than EUR 537 million, it covers the construction of all the ITER buildings and infrastructure.

"This is a very memorable moment," said Kaname Ikeda, emphazising that with this 43rd procurement signed the ITER Organization has now committed almost 60 percent of its total procurement value. Frank Briscoe on behalf of the European Domestic Agency thanked everyone involved in the preparation of the procurement. "Soon now we will see very visible signs out there that ITER is making progress."

In the course of this meeting week, taking advantage of having most of the people in charge gathered in Cadarache, five more procurements were signed. On Tuesday, Director-General Ikeda and the Director of the Chinese Domestic Agency, Jin-Pei Cheng, had signed three Procurement Arrangements all at one shot. These contracts, for a total value of more than EUR 47 million, cover the supply of 18 correction coils plus the support structure for ITER's magnet system and the cable-in-conduit conductors for the correction coils and the feeders.

On Wednesday, a Procurement Arrangement for the pre-compression system for ITER's giant toroidal field coils was signed with Europe, and on Friday, it was time for Ned Sauthoff,  Head of the US Project Office, to get his pen out and to sign the Procurement Arrangement for the transmission lines of ITER's electron cyclotron system.

Applause after a signing event is not uncommon, being a sign of relief and achievement. This afternoon, as the pens were put back into the pockets and the document folders closed, the clapping was a little more intense than usual. Even the sun that had disappeared behind dark clouds for most of the week decided to come out and smile as the champagne was served to a cheerful crowd.


ITER Principal Deputy Director-General Norbert Holtkamp giving his opening presentation to the Management Advisory Committee.
When Victor Vdovin came to Cadarache for the first time in 1975, he and his colleagues from the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow were welcomed at the Château with the words "welcome to the future site of the JET facility." Fusion, in those days, was not part of the CEA-Cadarache's portfolio ... Tore Supra did not even exist on paper ... and, as you've guessed, the location of the Joint European Torus had not yet been decided.

35 years later, the Russian fusion scientist—who has contributed to fusion history by participating in the construction of many tokamaks, amongst them TM-1 which was later upgraded, renamed CASTOR and moved to the Czech Republic—was back in Cadarache. This time, Vdovin had come to southern France to participate as a senior expert to the ITER Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) that assembled once again in the medieval setting of the Château de Cadarache.

It was meeting week, and all attention was focused on the two top-level committees reporting to the ITER Council, the STAC and the Management Advisory Committee (MAC). While the STAC members assessed the technical feasibility of the "Baseline" with an earliest possible First Plasma in November 2019 and commencement of deuterium-tritium operation in March 2027, the MAC assessed the detailed technical plan for the above-mentioned schedule and the resource plan necessary for its execution. "This was a week of intense discussions during which we prepared the technical basis for finalizing ITER Baseline," summarized the Chairman of the MAC, Gyung-Su Lee. "Together we checked the Project Baseline and its three pillars scope, schedule and cost from every possible angle so that we feel confident to present it to the ITER Council in June."

One evening this week, Vdovin—an aged fusion hand like so many experts to STAC and MAC—reflected on the three decades since fusion took a decisive turn towards building "big machines" by way of international collaboration. "Yes, things have changed," he said. Not so much inside the room where he had been welcomed more than thirty years ago, but outside where the facility is about to be built that will ultimately prove that fusion energy is an option for the future. "Over the past 45 years that I have participated in fusion research, we have accumulated a respectable database," Vdovin adds. "Based on the knowledge we gained I am confident that we can do it."


Say it with a smile: Wan Yuanxi, the mastermind behind the EAST project, is now leading the ITER Science and Technology Advisory Committee.
Thirty-four years ago, Wan Yuanxi entered the Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei in the Anhui Province and immersed himself in the study of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, with the idea in mind that great scientific achievements usually come from bold thinking. "In any scientific research project, everything that is done is ordinary," Wan says. "However, if we can integrate all the ordinary parts into a whole, this will be greater than the sum of the parts."
 
Integrating all the ordinary parts into a whole—especially when that whole is something unprecedented in the history of mankind—is the new task of Professor Wan, who is adding another chapter to his already prolific scientific career. This week, the man with the winning smile officially took over the Chair of the ITER Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) after having served as Vice-Chair for two years and as Interim Chairman over the last year during the absence of Predhiman Kaw.

Wan Yuanxi, formerly the head of the Institute of Plasma Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is the mastermind behind the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) project, the latest offspring in China of the international tokamak family. On 9 January 2009 he received, on behalf of the EAST team, China's State Top Scientific and Technological Award from the hands of Premier Wen Jiabao.

Although the challenges of his new task as STAC Chairman will be mainly related to science and engineering, an extra challenge for Professor Wan will be to have to express his thoughts and emotions in English. "English was the first foreign language I heard as a student," he remembers. "It was a radio program called the ´Voice of America.'" English later became his second foreign language after Russian. As soon as the political earthquake caused by the Cultural Revolution that forced him to work as a farmer was history, he followed the voice across the Pacific Ocean to the University of Texas at Austin. "But that is some 30 years ago and it will require all my strength to express my thoughts in English and to steer the debate," he said in an interview before this week's meeting. But what challenge is that for a man who has built a superconducting tokamak?



Werner Burkart, IAEA Deputy Director-General.
As the world population rises to reach a projected nine billion by 2050, one of the greatest challenges faced by countries worldwide is finding sustainable, clean and predictable sources of energy to support development and ensure a decent standard of living for their citizens.

This challenge has been present for humans since the dawn of time, from when our ancestors had to carry flaming torches from one camp to the next, before they knew even how to start a fire.

At present, most of the world's energy supplies come from fossil fuels, which are finite and which come at a high environmental cost. This has lead many nations to the conclusion that it is high time to diminish their reliance on carbon-based energy such as coal, gas and oil. Consequently, renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro and nuclear fission have emerged as possible substitutes and are growing in use in many parts of the world.

At the same time, hovering in the background and slowly gaining momentum is fusion power, a technology modelled after the sun's natural means of generating energy that has been under research for over 60 years, and that offers the possibility of low-waste and almost unlimited fuel supplies.

The potential of controlled nuclear fusion as a major part of the world energy supply was recognized at the very beginning of this scientific journey. In 1961, the IAEA held its first conference on Plasma Physics and Thermonuclear Fusion, in Salzburg. In his conference report, D.R. Sweetman wrote: "...the days of crude experiments, quickly done, are past and we are settling down to a period of careful experimentation in well-defined geometries."

He may not have known that it would take another 50 years to finally reach the device scale, promising burning plasmas which constitute ITER.

Over the past few years, and especially since the 2008 signing of the IAEA-ITER Cooperation Agreement, ITER has been an increasing source of interest for the IAEA's 151 Member States. No longer a facilitator for ITER's development the IAEA is  now a partner—albeit a modest one—for ITER, representing its Member States in the search for a lasting solution to future energy demands.

The same scientific questions that ITER confronts also dominate many technical meetings at the IAEA, which demonstrates its own commitment to fusion research through activities in plasma physics, materials science and fusion-related technology. In carrying out these activities, we have supported controlled magnetic confinement fusion as the main road to a commercial fusion power plant, while keeping an eye on the development of inertial fusion and its varied possibilities through applications such as laser, z-pinch, or heavy ion driven plasmas.

Most urgently, however, we see a growing need to share the results of ITER's work with our Member States and beyond, as this work holds the promise of scientific and technological benefits beyond the generation of fusion energy. For example, the world can benefit in multiple ways from plasma and surface science, the development and use of new heat and radiation materials as well as from IT technology developed at ITER.

Significantly, this can be a two-way flow of knowledge and expertise. The IAEA is unique as a global hub of information regarding current and new approaches to all aspects of fission energy production and the use of related materials. This know-how, gained over many years through work with a wide variety of Member States and other partners, can certainly be beneficial to the fusion community.

One of the most important lessons learned from ITER is that a United Nations organization with limited resources, but formidable expertise, can help to kick-start and ultimately partner with a multi-billion euro endeavour involving Member States representing over half of the world's population.

Perhaps the next lesson we can learn together is how two such partners, with a shared interest in fusion as a potential response to the world's energy challenges, can continue to work together to deliver the greatest possible benefits to the greatest number of people.

Englen Azizov, the director of the Institute of Tokamak Physics at Triniti (left), here with colleague Oleg Filatov, director of the Efremov Institute in Saint Petersburg, says Triniti has the experience and the tools to host Ignitor.
A tokamak project from the 1970s was revived two weeks ago as Italy and Russia signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" to cooperate in the construction of Ignitor. The Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment (ENEA) will collaborate with the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow to finalize plans for the machine, which will be built at the Triniti site at Troitsk near Moscow.

A compact high-field tokamak—its radius is only 1.3 metres compared to ITER's 6.2 metres—Ignitor is the brainchild of MIT physicist Bruno Coppi. The project is part of the line of research on high magnetic field tokamaks that began with the Alcator series of fusion devices at MIT and with the Frascati Torus programs in Italy. For more than 30 years however, Ignitor remained a controversial "paper project."

Ignitor aims at achieving plasma ignition, a state in which the energy produced by the fusion reactions is sufficient to keep the plasma "burning" without external heating.

The high magnetic field in the device (up to 13 Tesla on the plasma axis, more than twice that of ITER) would be achieved by Magnesium Diboride (MgB2) superconducting magnets, a first in fusion research. Proponents of the project claim that the resulting high current density in the plasma will be sufficient to heat the deuterium-tritium plasma to the required temperature.

Will it work? The project has generated much scepticism over the past 30 years. For many scientists in the fusion community Ignitor will be at best "an interesting insight into a burning plasma." Many others question the feasibility of the whole project.

The interesting question however is: "Why now?" The Ignitor project, which was last assessed, along with the redefined ITER design (ITER-FEAT) at the Snowmass (Colorado) Fusion Summer Study in 2002, has lain dormant for the past decade. Why is it suddenly coming back to life?

Englen Azizov, the director of the Institute of Tokamak Physics at Triniti, where construction of Ignitor is planned, says that for the first time in thirty years conditions are favourable for the project.

"Triniti is ready to host Ignitor. We have experience and we now have the tools: a very advanced and powerful power supply system that can deliver up to 1 GW for 100 seconds; a tritium plant that we designed for the T-14 high-field tokamak built in the 1990s; and a recently completed experimental hall with a very strong bioshield ..."

Ignitor's core would be built in Italy and the machine assembled at Triniti. The project could open to other countries.

How does Ignitor relate to ITER? "It is another option that is worth pursuing," says Azizov, a Member of the ITER Science and Technology Advisory Committe (STAC). Despite a recent headline in NatureNews the Italian-Russian venture does not aim "to rival ITER." Bruno Coppi was quoted in MIT News saying "there's no competition, we are complementary."


Alex Martin briefing the Spanish Master students on ITER.
As part of the curriculum of the Fusion Master course, a group of 17 students from the Barcelona School of Engineering at the Technical University of Catalunya, Spain, came to visit the French tokamak Tore Supra and the ITER construction site on Monday, 10 May.

For their teacher, Javier Dies, this annual trip to Cadarache (his eighteenth) has become "a treasured tradition." It's also the third time he's visited ITER. According to Dies, these visits "...definitely add value to the lessons I give. Seeing an operational fusion facility like Tore Supra and watching the progress of the ITER Project is worth every effort."

Following a tour around the CEA facilities guided by Alain Boulet, a technical visit of Tore Supra with Michel Chatelier, and an ITER site tour organized by Agence Iter France, Alex Martin from the ITER Tokamak Department introduced the scope and the scientific goals of the ITER Project to the group.

In the words of Yelle, a Dutch student studying applied physics at the Master's level, "this visit is a very good opportunity for us, as future engineers and researchers, to understand the major issues in the construction of a fusion facility."